SF forum takes up prescription drug addiction issue

February 21, 2013 7:27:47 PM PST
Prescription drug abuse is fueling a San Francisco Bay Area crime wave. There has been a huge spike in pharmacy robberies including one on Tuesday at the A.G. Pharmacy in San Francisco. In all, there have been half a dozen robberies recently from Palo Alto to San Francisco. It's part of a national epidemic being addressed in South San Francisco.

The problem is huge and there is a strong sense of urgency here. For the first time, the Medical Board of California and the State Board of Pharmacy are coming together to point out that prescription drugs are a controlled substance that's out of control.

On Jan. 14, 2013 armed men stormed two San Francisco pharmacies and demanded highly addictive pain relievers like Oxycontin and Oxycodone. It happened here at the Clement Pharmacy in the Richmond District and five hours later at the Golden Gate Pharmacy in the Sunset.

"I have noticed that there have been more robberies of pharmacies and this is typically because of the demand for illegal prescription medication," said San Francisco police Officer Albie Esparza.

On Tuesday armed men put a gun to the head of an employee at the A.G. Pharmacy on Caesar Chavez Boulevard and demanded similar narcotics, including Tylenol with Codeine and Viagra. It was the second time at that location in two months.

"It's in pretty high demand. It's also so they can sell it to make other illegal substances," said Esparza.

Now the A.G. Pharmacy says it is adding more surveillance cameras, a panic button, and it will only order certain narcotics causing a two day delay. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy says prescription drug abuse is a national epidemic.

"So in about 2008, we saw for the first time in this country that drug poisoning deaths exceeded motor vehicle fatalities as the single largest cause of injury death in the United States," said Michael Botticelli, the White House drug policy deputy director.

At a prescription drug forum in South San Francisco forum, experts discussed the crime, health problems and lost production time caused, in part, by doctors over prescribing these drugs.

"It's a big problem, especially in workers compensation right now," said Ruth Morentz, a San Francisco Workers Compensation investigator.

Morentz says California tax payers are shelling out for a huge increase in prescription drugs for injured workers.

"I can tell you that workers compensation paid $252 million for Schedule II opioids in the last year. That's an enormous amount of money," said Morentz.

The White House deputy director for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, mentioned earlier in this story, is himself a recovering prescription drug addict. This is a far-reaching problem that he calls the "the biggest public health issue facing the U.S. today."


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